Sunday, September 12, 2010

Take me to the airport ... by car

Brisbane's privately owned, and overpriced Airport Line opened in 2001. Whilst some trains to the airport can have a reasonable loading, the service is under-utilised (approx. 2m passengers a year), infrequent, and non-existent after 8pm. It is thus no surprise that the roads to the airport are congested, requiring massive construction projects for the Airport Link tunnel, and the Airport Roundabout Flyover. Why is the Airport Line under-utilised? Well for a start the frequency is abysmal - trains every 30 minutes off-peak. For passengers whose destinations are not on the Airport/Gold Coast Line, they would have to change trains in the CBD, with a potential wait of up to another 30 minutes for the connecting train. So you could waste nearly 1 hour in waiting time just getting home from the airport if you have to change trains! Then there is the totally backwards lack of trains after 8pm, so anyone leaving the car at home for a morning flight out, will have a bit of a problem when they arrive back at 8pm. Given the unreliability of low cost flights, you cannot even assume a 6:30pm arrival will result in you making the train home.  So if you don't want to be stranded after a flight delay, you will need a car. Finally, the overpriced fares do not exactly encourage people to take the train to the airport. 

Lets look at train frequencies to other airports in the world, to see how poorly Brisbane compares:
(Frequencies are weekday midday frequencies to CBD from Airport)

Brisbane - 2tph*
Sydney - 6tph*
London Heathrow (T123) - 18tph (12tph London Underground, 4tph Heathrow Express, 2tph Heathrow Connect)
London Gatwick - 11tph
London City - 8tph
Berlin Schonefeld - 6tph
Madrid Barajas - 8tph
Hong Kong - 5tph*
Paris CDG - 8tph
Tokyo Narita - 12tph (via 2 train companies)
Tokyo Haneda - 16tph (via 2 train companies)
Nurenberg - 9tph (much more frequent service, and 1/4 the population of Brisbane)
Hamburg - 6tph
Newcastle (UK) - 5tph (x2.5 more frequent service, and less than half the population of Brisbane)
Vancouver - 6tph
Copenhagen - 8tph
Dubai - 8tph
Bangkok - 6tph (a better airport train service than Brisbane in a third-world country!)
Naha - 6tph (Naha has just 1/6 of the population of Brisbane)
Oslo - 6tph (x2.5 more passengers, despite half the population)
Lyon - 4tph

*only direct rail option is with overpriced fares

As you can see, the Airport Line is yet another example of Brisbane's public transport being backwards. Why build a $220 rail line, to then run an infrequent service along it? Who decided that trains should stop at 8pm? Why do many lesser populated cities have a more frequent airport train service? Why do Brisbanites have to put up with such pathetic public transport? Despite being keen on public transport, BrizCommuter is glad he can easily get a lift to Brisbane airport by car!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


BrizCommuter is increasingly getting fed up with flickering fluorescent lighting on Queensland Rail's trains. After having to wait 20 minutes for a train home in the evening peak, the prospect of being surrounded by flickering and strobing lights makes the commute even more unenjoyable. BrizCommuter really doesn't care if the train has a fancy new branding on the outside, but does care if the train's interior lighting is trying to do an impression of a nightclub! BrizCommuter cannot remember seeing any flickering lights on trains in the UK, Japan, and even Melbourne, so why are they so common in Brisbane? Please, QR stop the flickering! A long term solution would be to replace the fluorescent lights with LED alternatives when trains are refurbished. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Connecting SEQ 2031 - Spin or Substance?

BrizCommuter has just had a read of the Draft Connecting SEQ 2031 plan, and it definitely justifies a second post to the blog. Is this plan going to be spin or substance? If the plan is substance, then Brisbane is in for some vital changes in the transport paradigm. The investment, and number of parallel infrastructure projects required will be massive. For example 4 tracks will be required as far out as Loganlea to allow UrbanLink, ExpressLink, and CoastLink services to not get in each others way. However, it is sad that the legacy of poor urban planning means that even by 3031, only 30% of the population will live near decent public transport. If the plan is spin, then we will be in for the usual half-baked infrastructure projects that we are accustomed to. The magnitude of the task ahead demonstrates how far behind public transport is in Brisbane. The plans also need a clear timeframe. The "UrbanLink" 15 minute off-peak rail and bus frequencies are required now, not sometime between when this plan is finalised and 2031. If most lines do not have 15min off-peak frequency in the belated 2011 train timetables, then BrizCommuter will be very unhappy!

There are two main areas in which BrizCommuter thinks that improvements need to be made to the plan:

1) Linking the new Northwest Corridor/Trouts Road Line (Alderley to Strathpine) to the existing rail network.

If this line was to join the Ferny Grove Line, there would be severe capacity issues on the Ferny Grove Line between Alderley and Bowen Hills as the line would have a mix of Ferny Grove UrbanLInk, Strathpine UrbanLink, and Sunshine Coast CoastLink services. Unless the CoastLink services are to be slowed behind all stations UrbanLink services, then either the Ferny Grove Line will need extra tracks between Alderley and Bowen Hills, or an alternative underground route will need to be created between Alderley and the CBD. Both of these options will not come cheap! The latter may also require extra tracks to be added to Cross River Rail between the southern tunnel portal and Roma Street. Has this been considered by Cross River Rail planners? Also, has the future use of 9-car trains been considered in the design of the new Ferny Grove station? Are the elimination of level crossings across the network part of the plan?

There are also issues in the Bowen Hills area, where according to the map, UrbanLink services would have to access the Ferny Grove LIne from the existing suburban tracks, CoastLink services would have to access the Ferny Grove Line from the Cross River Rail tracks, and ExpressLink services would have to access the existing Caboolture Line from the Cross River Rail tracks. The design of Cross River Rail infrastructure will have be take into account the eventually of these various possible line routings in the Bowen Hills area. 

2) The Brisbane Subway should not be a self-contained metro. 

According to the Inner City Rail Capacity Study (2008), the Ipswich/Springfield to Caboolture Line will reach capacity in the mid 2020s. Recently announced lines to Kippa-Ring, Trouts Road/Northwest Corridor, and Flagstone will add even more pressure onto the rail system. The Inner CIty Rail Capacity Study study suggested a second cross city rail line to cope with required capacity, along a similar route to the "Brisbane Subway" (previously known as the Inner City Metro). If the Brisbane Subway is self-contained, this will not add capacity to the existing rail network. So what will happen when the Ipswich/Springfield Line reaches capacity? A self-contained Brisbane Subway is a fundamental flaw to the Connecting SEQ 3031 plan. Many cities are moving or have moved away from building self-contained metros in favour of through routing of suburban rail services through tunnels - Tokyo Metro and Paris RER being excellent examples. If the "Brisbane Subway" is not connected to existing rail lines, then yet another tunnel will be required to cope with suburban rail capacity at great expense to the tax-payer.

Whilst on the subject of metros (only the Yanks and Scots call metro systems subways), don't believe the spin of "ultra high frequencies (trains to 90 second)". No heavy rail metro in the world is timetabled at 90 second frequencies, although Moscow and Paris Metros come close. Also the claim that the existing rail system can run 30tph with advanced signalling is only possible if there are no infrastructure limitations, and station dwell times are less than around 50 seconds. Possible conversion of sections of the Busway to the "Brisbane Metro" is also quoted in the plan. There are many reasons why this is a pie in the sky idea. 

BrizCommuter looks forward to seeing the full version of this report after the consultation process has finished. BrizCommuter would also like to see an independent study along the lines of the Inner City Capacity Rail Study taking into account the plans made in the draft Connecting SEQ 2031 plan.